Hallowed hollows: Breathtaking chapel housed in 500-year-old Colombian salt mine

Posted on Nov 26 2012 - 5:56am by Editor
  • Chapel was built by miners as a place to pray before they started work and sits 800metres underground
  • Impressive salt mine dates back to pre-Colombian times when it was exploited by the indigenous Muisca people
  • Salt deposit was created 250million years ago when an inland sea covered the region
  • Nearby is Zipaquirá Cathedral which is 180m underground and required 250,000 tons of rock salt to be extracted

Building a chapel 800metres below the Earth’s surface is hardly conventional.

Stalagmites and stalactites: Tourists marvel at the geological features of the ancient salt mine which has been in use since the 5th century BC
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Yet, these striking images show how one salt mine in Colombia has been turned into a place of sanctuary.

Now a major tourist attraction, the mine in Nemocon, Cundinamarca, around 58 miles from the country’s capital Bogota, dates back over 500 years.

It was built by miners who carved a place for their daily prayers before they started work.

The mine was originally used by the ancient Muisca indigenous people benefited from the enormous salt deposit and consequently became one of the most prosperous pre-Hispanic societies of their time.

Years later, the salt was used to finance the campaigns of the liberators Nariño and Bolívar who brought independence to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela 200 years ago.

The Spanish declared the site the ‘City of Whites’ by vice regal decree.

The salt deposit was formed 250million years ago when an inland sea covered the region.

Cavernous depths: View of a saltwater pond at Nemocon’s salt mine in Cundinamarca, Colombia
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The sea eventually dried out and left an enormous deposit of salt buried below the earth and mud. It solidified and became rocks of salt.

The cavernous surroundings of the mine in Nemocon are illuminated by the reflection of the light on the pond water.

There is a large chamber with mirrors of salt water, an events room, a wishing pool and a waterfall of salt which is more than 80 years old.

Mesmerising: As the sea dried out while mountains were formed, it left an enormous deposit of salt buried below the earth and mud
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In the chapel chamber lies an enormous sphere made of rock which weights 1,300 kilos and represents the world.

Another incredible feature of the mine, which has enchanting stalactites and stalagmites, is the salt crystal weighing 1,600 kilos, which was carved into the shape of a heart in the 1960s by miner Miguel Sánchez.

Beautiful blues: A man looks at an 80-year-old waterfall of crystallised salt at the mine in Colombia
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The mine, which is the largest deposit of rock salt in the world, is buried deep in the hill of Zipa – the name of an important indigenous chief – at 2,652m above sea level with an average temperature of 14˚C.

Near to the salt mine is the Zipaquirá Cathedral, which was inaugurated in 1995.

It is situated 180m underground and required a staggering 250,000 tons of rock salt to be extracted.